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Gabonese man pleads guilty in U.S. hedge fund bribery case

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Gabonese man who prosecutors say acted as a “fixer” for a joint-venture involving the hedge fund Och-Ziff Capital Management Group LLC pleaded guilty on Friday to U.S. charges that he engaged in a foreign bribery scheme.

Samuel Mebiame, a son of the late former Gabon Prime Minister Leon Mebiame, entered his plea in federal court in Brooklyn to conspiracy to violate the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

In court, Mebiame admitted that he participated in a scheme to provide “improper benefits” to government officials in certain African countries such as Guinea in exchange for obtaining business opportunities, including a mining contract.

“I apologize for and regret my actions,” he said.

Mebiame, 43, has been held without bail since his arrest in August. He faces a maximum of five years in prison and is scheduled to be sentenced on April 6.

His plea came after Och-Ziff and its chief executive, Daniel Och, agreed in September to pay $412 million and $2.17 million, respectively, to resolve U.S. probes into the hedge fund’s role in bribing officials in several African countries.

That settlement led to a subsidiary of Och-Ziff pleading guilty to participating in a scheme to bribe officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in what prosecutors said marked the first U.S. foreign bribery case against a hedge fund.

Mebiame was arrested in connection with what prosecutors said was his work as a “fixer” for a mining company owned by a joint venture between Och-Ziff and an entity incorporated in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

While court papers do not identify the joint venture, its description matches one Och-Ziff formed with Palladino Holdings Ltd, an investment vehicle founded by South African businessman Walter Hennig.

Mebiame’s arrest came after he voluntarily met with federal law enforcement in June 2015 to discuss his role in paying bribes to secure mining concessions for the joint venture, according to a criminal complaint.

The complaint said that Mebiame supplied cash and cars to two officials in Niger; an S-Class Mercedes Benz sedan and rented private Airbus jet to a Guinean official; and travel and shopping expenses for an adviser to Chad’s president.

Mebiame was paid at least $3.5 million through 2012 for his work, the complaint said.

The case is U.S. v. Mebiame, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, No. 16-cr-00627.

Reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Bernard Orr and Tom Brown